Hampi, Tipu Sultan's Palace to get a new lease of life

NEW DELHI, MARCH 17. In an attempt to save precious heritage from bio-deterioration, the Archaeological Survey of India has signed a memorandum of understanding with a Belgium company, Janssen Pharmaceutica. The ASI has identified two sites -- Hampi, a World Heritage Site, and Tipu Sultan's Palace in Karnataka -- for research and treatment of bio-deteriogens like mould, algae, lichens and fungal growth.

A pharmaceutical company that makes drugs like "Imodium", Janssen Pharmaceutica has also worked on conservation of the terracotta warriors and horses in the China Museum as well as saved Egyptian mummies in Mexico from fungal degradation.

"Art work is destroyed not only by human error but also by insects, bacterial growth and fungi. Very few people know this, but this material growth can occur on marble too. Many monuments have been destroyed by lichens. In India, since weather conditions are extreme, it contributes to this growth," stated the Vice-President (Plant and Material Protection), Janssen, at a press conference here earlier this week.

While work will begin in April on the two monuments, the finding of the research will be applied on various monuments across the country. Under the MoU, Janssen will provide the compounds necessary to eliminate the fungal decay, mould and termites for three years. It will also provide financial support for equipment necessary for this process to the ASI Chemical Branch in Dehra Dun.

Beautifully painted, Tipu Sultan's Palace faces serious decay from physical and biological agents that have slowly deteriorated the wooden structure. Mould and lichen have damaged the paintings over the years. The MoU aims to find a solution to this problem without damaging the material used to paint.

"The problem is that the binding material of the paintings is a good host for such growth and we can't spray insecticide on it without staining the paintings. We hope to be able to find a solution to such problems with the help of Janssen," stated the Joint Director-General of ASI, R.K. Sharma.

Despite being made of stronger stuff, bio-deterioration is an acute problem in the monuments at Hampi, which is currently on the UNESCO endangered list. The idea was to conduct the research on monuments of different material, so that the learning from the research could be applied to many more buildings.

The ASI is also working closely with UNESCO to try and get Hampi off this list. "UNESCO had objected to a bridge being built near the monuments. We have built a by-pass so that the polluting vehicles don't come near the site. Hopefully, by the next meeting we will have the monuments off the list," stated the Director-General of ASI, C. Babu Rajeev. He also added that the ASI would nominate Harmandir Sahib and Munjuli Islands in Assam for inclusion in UNESCO's World Heritage List this year.

The MoU was signed in the presence of the visiting Prince Philippe of Belgium and Princess Mathilde.

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